The Sudan In The Nineteenth Century – H.A. Ibrahim
Arab migrations into the eastern Sudan – roughly the present Sudan minus the Southern Region – started as early as the ninth century and reached their peak in the fourteenth century. Through gradual and peaceful means the Arabs infiltrated the country and spread their culture, religion and influence among its Christian and traditionalist societies.
By the early sixteenth century the Eastern Sudan was ruled predominantly by two Muslim sultanates: the Fundj and the Für. While the Für sultans, who descended from a distinguished Sudanese family – the Kayra — ruled Därfür until 1874, their counterparts in Sennär capitulated to the Turkish rulers in 1821.
The Fundj sultanate had suffered from extensive dynastic rivalries, particularly between its founders, the Fundj and ‘Abdallah, and subsequently between different hostile groups of the Hamadj who had controlled its destiny since the 1760s. The upshot of all this was the final disintegration of the sultanate by the early nineteenth century into some weak and hostile shaykhdoms. The resultant chaos and local warfare gave the Viceroy oFEgypt, Muhammad ‘All, an opportunity that he was impatiently awaiting to add the Sudan to his domains in 1820-1.
Thus started the first colonial era, one that dominated the Sudan for over sixty years. The term ‘Egyptian’ is often used to describe this colonial period in the history of the Sudan. But, if at all, it should be used with discretion. The Sudan was not conquered or ruled by Egyptians as we know them today, but by a ‘Turkish-speaking body whose members had dominated Egypt since medieval times’. With few exceptions, the true Egyptians – people of the Lower Nile – were not given senior political or military posts in Egypt or in the conquered Sudan, but were assigned junior posts in the administration and the army.
Hence the Sudanese, and Europeans as well, called the rulers of the country Turks ‘for the Sudan was Egyptian only in the sense that it was a dependency of the Ottoman province of Egypt’. Turkïyya (Turkish) is preferred to ‘Egyptian’ or the other commonly used, but awkward, neologism ‘Turco-Egyptian’. Turkish rule in the Sudan (1821-85) may be studied under the following three headings: the strategy of the conquest and the response of the northern Sudanese people; resistance to the imperial drive in the South 1840-80, and the role of the new regime in modernizing the Sudan.
The strategy of the conquest and the response of the northern Sudanese
The strategy of the Turkish invasion of the Sudan has been the subject of much controversy among historians. According to some Egyptian historians, Muhammad ‘Ali primary objective behind what they called the ‘opening up’ of the Sudan was the welfare of the country and its people. Muhammad Ali — so they argue – was so sorry for the deteriorating conditions of the inhabitants of the Fund) sultanate that he decided to step in by force to save them from this misery and hardship, and subsequently to unite the Sudanese people with their brothers in Egypt in a strong state that would work for the ‘welfare’ of both peoples.
Some Egyptian historians have even asserted that Muhammad ‘All undertook this invasion ‘on the request of the Sudanese people themselves’ as represented by some notables who approached him in Cairo and urged him to do this. Some Sudanese dignitaries did do this, but it is reasonable to assume that their motive was strictly personal and related to some dynastic rivalries that they had with the rulers of the Fundj sultanate. Consequently they should not be assumed to have represented the Sudanese people as such.
A distinguished Egyptian historian, the late Muhammad Fu’ad Shukri, claimed that Muhammad Ali conquest had firmly established Egypt’s ‘legal and historical rights’ over the Sudan. The dissolution of the Fundj sultanate by 1820 and the disappearance of the legitimate authority of its sultan made the Sudan, in Shukri’s view, ‘a land without a sovereign’ — a ‘no man’s land’. Hence once Muhammad ‘All controlled it and established a strong government there, Egypt automatically became, after 1821, the undisputed sovereign of the Sudan by the right of conquest.
One of Muhammad Ali fundamental reasons for visiting the Sudan in 1838-9, Shukri claimed, was to propagate this theory – the ‘theory of the vacuum’ as he called it – and to depend on it to ‘safeguard the unity of the Nile Valley’, i.e. to keep its two parts — Egypt and the Sudan – under one political system. This claim to Egyptian sovereignty over the Sudan dominated Egyptian and Sudanese politics – until the 1950s. Shukri seems to have been politically motivated to support the advocates of the unity of the Nile Valley against their counterparts who wanted an independent Sudan. It should also be added that the sultan of Sennar, though he had become a mere figurehead by 1820, remained until that time the legal sovereign of the country.
Moreover, Egypt could not assume sovereignty over the Sudan by the right of conquest, as the invasion was undertaken in the name of the Ottoman sultan, and Egypt itself continued to be an Ottoman province until 1914 at least. In any case the Fund) sultanate could not be equated with the Sudan as a whole. The ‘welfare hypothesis’ to explain the Egyptian invasion has also been challenged in recent studies by Sudanese scholars. Depending on a wide range of archival material, these studies demonstrate that Muhammad Ali primary objective was the exploitation of Sudanese human and economic resources to achieve his extensive ambitions in Egypt and abroad.
Anxious to consolidate his independence in Egypt and to build an empire at the expense of the Ottoman emperor, Muhammad ‘Ali just before the conquest of the Sudan had embarked on the formation of a strong modern army. While at first ruling out for many reasons the conscription of the Egyptian fallähin (peasants), he hoped to recruit twenty or thirty thousand Sudanese Africans in his nizatn-i-jedtd (‘new organization’). More of them were also needed in his numerous agricultural and industrial enterprises in Egypt. Muhammad ‘Ali had therefore kept urging his commanders in the Sudan to intensify their ghazuas – armed slave raids – and to send the greatest possible number of Africans to the camp specially made for them at Aswan.
He stressed in a directive that this was the most important reason for undertaking the ‘difficulties and expenditure of the conquest’, and in another he described this inhuman practice as his ‘utmost desire irrespective of the means used to do it’. Though hardly a year passed until 1838 without at least one or more ghazuas for the blacks in the Nuba hills and beyond Fazughli, the supply of black slaves ran short of the demand. Muhammad ‘Ali hope to swell the black army of his dreams ‘was pure optimism based on no thorough survey of the slave reservoir in the Sudan’.
The Sudanese blacks had, moreover, stubbornly resisted the ghazuas and some of them had even committed suicide to avoid the humiliating life of slavery. Many of those captured were lost en route, while others died at Aswan of fever, dysentery, chills and homesickness.
Faced with this drastic failure,Muhammad Ali finally conscripted the fallähin insubstantial numbers,and soon discovered that they made some of the best regular infantry in the Middle East. Even those blacks who were recruited for government military service in the Sudan itself showed disobedience and a lack of interest .While some fled from the service,others raised arms against the government. Perhaps the most important of those risings was that of Medaniin1844.
In reaction to injustice and humiliation Sudanese soldiers conspired to revolt simultaneously in four places: Khartoum, Sennär, Kamlin and Medani. But those of Medani rose before the scheduled time, killed some of their Turkish officers, and fled to Sennär to continue the revolt there. It was only with great difficulty that the government suppressed the rising. Equally important was Muhammad Ali desire to exploit Sudanese minerals, particularly gold.
On his assumption of power in 1805, Egypt was one of the poorest provinces of the Ottoman empire, if not the poorest. Hence Muhammad Ali drive was also intended to find a quick source of revenue to achieve his internal and external aspirations. Being obsessed from early manhood to old age with the illusion that gold was to be found in abundance in the Sudan, he made strenuous effort to discover it, particularly in the Fazughli area and around Djabal Shaybun.
Apart from stressing to his commanders the urgency of gold-prospecting, Muhammad Ali sometimes sent mining experts to the Sudan, e.g. the Austrian Rosseger and his own engineer Boreani. Finally, in 1838-9, at the age of seventy, he traveled all the way from Cairo to Fazughli to supervise the mining the mining activities there. But his three-week stay was disappointing. Government mining activities had not only failed to provide gold but had also consumed much from the meagre resources of the Egyptian treasury.
The Turkish imperialists were, however, more successful in expanding agriculture in the Sudan. They sent Egyptian agricultural experts who improved irrigation systems, developed existing crops, planted new ones, and effectively combated pests and plagues, particularly locusts. Veterinary doctors were appointed to look after the animals and experts were dispatched from Egypt to teach the Sudanese the preservation of hides and skins. The conquest had, moreover, given greater security to northern Sudanese and Egyptian traders and made possible the eventual introduction of European commerce.
But this prosperity in agricultural and animal wealth was presumably not employed to cater for the welfare of the Sudanese people. Instead, the government was mainly concerned with exporting wealth to Egypt. Muhammad Ali had throughout his reign imposed a strict state monopoly on almost all of the country’s products and exports. Consequently, considerable quantities of Sudanese products – indigo, gum, ivory, etc. – were exported to Egypt. Similarly, throughout the Turkish rule the Sudan was Egypt’s cheapest source of livestock.
In spite of the difficulties of moving them down the Nile, with raids by thieving nomads, and a lack of organized feeding and watering arrangements, a steady flow of cattle arrived each year in Egypt. Animal products such as hides and hair were also sent. The Sudanese people had not experienced the payment of regular taxes during the time of the Fundj sultanate, and the burden of the government was then light, particularly on the poor. But, in striving to mobilize and exploit all Sudanese resources, the Turkish administrators extended the Egyptian system of taxation to the Sudan, with suitable modifications.
By applying this altogether new system of taxation, they inevitably disrupted the economic life of the people. What made matters worse were the brutal means used by the bäzbuzq — irregular soldiers — to collect the heavy taxes, and the frequent insistence of the government that they should be paid in cash, though the common usage of coins was still restricted to merchants and townspeople. The reaction of the people was immediate and usually violent. Some deserted their lands and sakias (waterwheels) to flee to the Ethiopian border or to the west. But many others rose in numerous and disparate tax revolts that took place throughout the Turkïyya. Perhaps the most violent of these was the Sudanese revolt of 1822. Ignoring the traditional Sudanese taxation system, the Coptic financial intendant liana al-Tawïl imposed heavy taxes on the peoples of the Gezira and Berber in 1821.
But they rose in violent protest in February 1822, attacking and killing members of the isolated detachments of Egyptian troops. From Shendi to Sennär the people fled by the thousand to the borders of Ethiopia, to the valley of Atbara and to the region of Gedaref. To avoid a large scale revolt, Ismail, Muhammad Ali son and his commander-in-chief in Sennär hurried back from Fazughli to the Gezira. Through conciliation and a revised assessment of the taxes, he temporarily calmed the situation. But Ismail himself soon committed a disastrous blunder. On his way from the Sudan to Egypt, he stopped at Shendi, and demanded an outrageous contribution from the Ja’liyïn people: 30000 dollars and 6000 slaves within two days.19 Nimir, the mak (chief) of the local Ja’liyïn, protested that his people could not afford what was demanded.
Ismail arrogantly hit Nimir across the face with his pipe. To avenge this humiliation, Nimir conspired with his men to burn Ismail and all his staff alive at Shendi in late October 1822. Subsequently the revolt spread to other regions and caused extensive loss in life and property. Though a rising of despair, without proper leadership, this revolt was an early warning to the invaders that resistance to their rule was entrenched in the hearts of many Sudanese. Oppressive taxation and mal administration had also provoked widespread resistance to the short-lived Turkish rule in Därfür. Anxious to restore their ancient rule, the remaining members of the Kayra family mobilized Für resistance against the colonizers.
The most popular and largest of those revolts was that of Amir Hariin in 1877. For three years Harun continued to harass the intruders and could probably have ended their rule had he not been killed in 1880. His relative, ‘Abdallah Düd Banga, however, continued the struggle from his fortified military camp in the Nuba mountains. Faced with this gallant resistance, the Turks were unable to consolidate their rule until the people of Därfür, in active cooperation with the Mahdï, finally overthrew it in 1884.
The Sudanese military also had their share in resisting the first colonial era. Several military incidents and risings took place in some northern towns: Medani, Sennär, Obeid, Suäkin. But the most serious military revolt took place in Kassala in 1865. Infuriated by the suspension of pay, the Sudanese fourth regiment in Kassala defied the instruction of its Turkish officers, attacked and killed some of them, and besieged the town for twenty-six days. The revolt inflicted some damage in life and property and seriously undermined the Turkish administration in the whole Kassala province. Perhaps it was the most serious challenge that the imperialist had faced in the country for over thirty years.
Nevertheless, through deception and diplomacy, the government finally suppressed the revolt. The soldiers surrendered their arms after a vague promise of a general pardon, but the survivors were either executed or sent to long terms of imprisonment. The khédive had also directed that the Sudanese regiments in the Sudan be reduced to three and the rest sent to Egypt.
Resistance to the imperial drive in the South, 1821-80
Up to the beginning of Turkish rule in the Sudan in 1821, the political and economic powers of the Muslim northern Sudan states and Southern Sudan peoples were comparable, if not evenly balanced. But the nineteenth century, especially the second half of it, was to be catastrophic for the people of southern Sudan.
It was a period of great material loss and humiliation, a ‘period of chaos’ as it is popularly remembered in southern Sudan. F. M. Deng, himself a Jieng from southern Sudan, has written that it was a period identified in the memories of the southerners ‘with the wars of slavery and conquest waged against them by waves of invaders whom they hardly distinguished, except by the use of such varied terms as the Arabs, the Turks, the Egyptians, the Ansars, or the Dongolawis’.
When Muhammad Ali invaded the Sudan in 1821, he divided the country into provinces and districts under Egyptian and Turkish officers who were placed under a governor-general based at the newly founded town of Khartoum. As noted above, the primary function of the alien regime was to collect revenue in the form of tribute and slaves to swell the ranks of the Egyptian army. Frequent raids were made along the White Nile for the purpose of capturing slaves, and from 1840 the trafficking human lives reached enormous proportions. The slavers’ private armies were armed with guns and huge parcels of land were farmed out to the merchants who found a rich return for their investments amongst the peoples of southern Sudan.
The commercial network developed by Muhammad Ali had certain distinctive features. The traders built zeribas (forts), an idea which they borrowed from Dârfûr, whose sultans had practiced it since the eighteenth century. The forts were used as bases for barter operations and for conducting forays into the neighboring areas.
Other distinctive features of the network were the division of influence between state monopolies and private trade, the systematic use of force, mainly through the recruitment of local mercenaries, a policy of developing plantations for trade, especially in cotton. The Baggara, for instance, were supposed to pay these taxes in cattle to the governor of Kordofan. Those who could not, or would not, were allowed to pay taxes in slaves. They therefore raided the Jieng for slaves.
Futhermore, there were the European merchants who were demanding from the Turkish government that the Sudanese ivory markets be thrown open to free trade. When later the European traders were faced with lower profit margins, they decided to pay their Arab retainers in slaves rather than in cash, and this intensified the slave trade. Kaka in northern Shillukland soon emerged as a major slave market, especially for slaves coming from the southern zeribas.
The boom at Kaka was partly connected with the abolition of the slave trade in the Turkish-controlled Sudan in 1854. It became the main slave market of the White Nile, and its immigrant population swelled rapidly. The activities of the freebooter, Muhammad al-Khäyr, a Dongalawi by birth, who moved to Kaka from Taqali in 1854, may also have facilitated the transformation of Kaka into a slave market. It is estimated that by i860, an average of 2000 slaves were being sold annually at Kaka and, to acquire this number, Khâyr and his slave gangs were terrorizing the whole Shilluk countryside.
The southerners refused to co-operate with the traders and actively resisted their presence in their land. The wars that were waged against the intruders are too many and too diversified to be enumerated here. Only a few need be mentioned as illustration. The Bari people were the first to seize an opportunity to attack the invaders. In 1854, they attacked a French trading mission, killing two of its men and wounding several others. Shortly afterwards another extremely violent battle took place between about 5000 Bari and another trading mission led by Vaudeny, the Sardinian vice-consul. Vaudeny, his Turkish deputy, and many of his men were killed.
Bari chiefs who showed any tendency to collaborate with the intruders were also attacked. Chief Nyagilo, for example, had his authority undermined and property destroyed. He fled to Gondokoro, but was hunted down and killed there in 1859 by groups of Bari armed youth. The traders were driven eastwards into the hostile land of the Lokoya. When, in 1860, in reaction to an assault on 5 foreigners, the traders sent a force of 150 soldiers, the Lokoya killed 120 of them and wounded many of the rest.
The northern Shilluk were equally active against the traders in the White Nile. But the immigrants moving into Kaka in particular and northern Shillukland in general, were not all traders. Many of them were refugees escaping from the Turkish rule. The period between 1840 and 1860 ‘saw a steady stream of refugees from the Turco-Egyptian north entering Shilluk territory. Many of these were Selim Baggara; but there were malcontents from the Muslim Sudan’. The relations between the immigrants and the Shilluk remained amicable until 1860, when the reih (king) could no longer control the trading system that had developed in his kingdom, but which was dominated and eventually controlled by foreigners. Reth Kwatker expelled many Arab traders from his kingdom in 1860.
Muhammad al-Khäyr replied by attacking the Shilluk with 200 Baggara cavalry, over 1000 riflemen and thirteen boats. Fashoda, the royal capital, was destroyed. John and Kate Petherick, who were in the region at this time, gave an eyewitness account of the consequences of this attack. By 1862, they say, Shillukland from Aba Island to the mouth of the Sobat was ‘in a very disturbed state’, and ‘the once-powerful Shillooks have been scattered far and wide’. Kate Petherick noted in her diary: ‘Passed an old ruined village of the Shillooks called Kaka; there were at least 600 deserted tookuls. Last year [they] were driven from their homes.
They were an industrious people, and cultivated grain to a large extent. Later they saw one of al-Khäyr’s expeditions that had captured 500 slaves and 12000 head of cattle. The Shilluk decided to fight back. A raid by al-Khäyr’s marauders was repulsed and about seventy of his Baggara were killed. In 1863, the Shilluk forced the traders to retreat into the interior and al-Khäyr was tracked down and killed.
Thus, the relationship between the Shilluk and the Turkish government deteriorated rapidly. The Shilluk had to pay heavy cattle taxes and supply slaves to serve as soldiers for the expanding Sudanese garrison.


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